MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Zeke Nnaji was a force in high school, and he is now a force in college.

Zeke has grown into a 6-foot-11-inch frame, and he has grown into a possible NBA first-round pick.

WCCO first met him when he was paving the way at Hopkins High School during a state championship season.

“Hopkins was a blessing. I mean, Coach [Ken] Novak and all the coaches over there … they really taught me so much about the game and how to play it the right way,” Zeke said. “I think a lot of the schemes and just the style of play we have at Hopkins really transited well to college, and helped me to be successful early on.”

Colleges came calling, and he chose the University of Arizona, which led to a busy past eight months.

“It’s gone by so fast,” Zeke said. “I think about all I’ve done. The year of 2019, it’s been a lot. After I won the state championship, I had a lot or workouts preparing for college. And then I headed down to Tuscan, and then after that went to … trials for the USA team.”

When the season finally started, they found out this prospect is the real deal. He can play, and he can play almost anywhere — from the inside to the out.

“Ever since I was a little kid, actually, my dad had always wanted me to be a versatile player, not just be a back-to-the-basket kind of [player],” Nnaji said. “And so I think that having that kind of mindset ever since a young age has really helped to make me the person that I am today.”

It seems his dad, Apham Nnaji, has had a pretty good gauge of his son for some time. He understands his son is now in the spotlight, and he understands what that means.

“What concerns me most is that he continues to be grounded. I never have to worry about that. Is he respectful? Is he still who we raised him to be?” Apham said.

Some of that is aided by his hobby. He has taught himself to play the piano.

“Playing piano is like a getaway from everything else. I can just go out there and just play and just let my mind loose,” Zeke said. “I think that it really helps me to relax and just recover.”

The bigger goal is the big time. He is tracking to be a possible lottery pick in the NBA next summer.

“It’s something that I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid, since I was watching Kobe versus the Celtics or something like that. But I’ve always wanted to be in the NBA. I think that how close I am to it now is incredible.”

Mike Max